THE passage by the House of Representatives of a new fiscal regime for mining revenues about two weeks ago should be a sign that the government is ready to end what has been six years of complete disarray for one of the country’s most important economic sectors. It could be that sign, if the Senate can focus on real work for a change and follow the House’s lead in approving the tax and royalty package.
Mining is one of the most contentious areas of policy in just about every place it is pursued because it unavoidably poses significant environmental and social risks. If the Philippines, being particularly sensitive in both those areas, had the luxury of not pursuing any form of mining, it would obviously be better if it did not.
Mining is by its very nature invasive, and no regulatory framework nor set of best practices can guarantee that harm will be prevented; the best anyone can do is minimize the harm, and repair the damage once mining ceases.
The reality is, however, that as a chronic net importer with a weak industrial base and low per capita GDP, the Philippines has no choice but to maximize every resource it has if it hopes to someday achieve the dream of being a first-world economy.
One of the most ill-conceived, ham-handed moves made by former president BS Aquino 3rd was to unilaterally dump the 1995 Mining Act via an executive order in 2012. Aquino’s two-volt intellect was capable of conceiving that government should extract a higher price for the country’s fundamental, non-renewable resources, and that was reasonable enough, but he hadn’t made the mental leap to developing an operable plan, nor did he listen to the recommendations of his advisors.
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